Monday, July 13, 2009

The Return of Urban Policy?

Just off the AP Wire: White House starts urban policy outreach.

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama said Monday that federal policy has encouraged urban sprawl, has hurt city residents and damaged the environment.

Pledging a top-to-bottom review of how the United States deals with cities and metropolitan areas, Obama invited political leaders and policy experts to the White House to solicit their ideas for a national urban policy. Citing the connection between education and employment figures, transportation and pollution, White House officials said their next budget proposal would address how to remedy long-festering policy questions about the pace of urban growth.

More at the link.

It's been noted that Obama was the first Presidential candidate in some time to actually mention urban policy as an agenda item. In fact he has appointed an urban policy czar, the former Bronx borough president Adolfo Carrion.

However, inside-the-Beltway observers like Politico have questioned whether urban policy is on the back burner, and if Carrion is the man for that job:

Urban policy watchers said that some sort of broad policy mandate is necessary, and soon, so that the office doesn’t lose credibility and momentum. A report released last month by the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy called "No Economic Recovery Without Cities: The Urgency of a New Federal Urban Policy" said that the White House must act soon to empower the office to have a more active role in making sure stimulus money is spent wisely in the cities.

Perhaps Obama's remarks today is a response to critques like this, and a signal that he is still serious about urban affairs, or at least in trying to move the discussion forward.

And apparently approaches floated during the campaing are still on the table, based on the WaPo's excellent summary of the conference agenda. Note the discussion of Choice Neighborhoods (HUD) and Promise Neighborhoods (Department of Education), both of which sound a lot like the old Model Cities concept of a holistic approach to urban problems. These proposals first made their appearance in Obama's campaign websites. Incidentally, Choice Neigborhoods will be replacing the HOPE programs of the Clinton era:

Those gathered Monday will consider local initiatives that could become best practices to emulate, with the goals of increasing the competitiveness, sustainable development and opportunity of metropolitan regions.

The conference is to present an interdisciplinary approach to urban issues and include the heads of the Departments of Labor, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development, and of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Small Business Administration.

Carrión said discussion will include initiatives like Choice Neighborhoods, a new HUD program that provides poor neighborhoods not only with housing, but also social and economic benefits, like day care and farmers' markets; and Promise Neighborhoods, a Department of Education program modeled after the Harlem Children's Zone, to improve academic achievement and life skills by offering after school and weekend sports, social and arts activities.

This could be a return to a New Frontier/Great Society era of urban policy innovation.


Cartophiliac said...

Obama is our first "urban president" for a couple generations... When was the last time we had a president to proudly hails from an urban community? And vacation doesn't mean return to the ranch or the peanut farm... We can hope that counts for something...

Jefferey said...

Obama's Hyde Park is a neat mix of urban place and college neighborhood. And Chicago itself is the quintessential American city.

If the GOP had nominated Giuliani we would have had a GOP urban policy, too, but they went elsewhere with their candidates. In the 1960s, however, the GOP had some good urban mayors, like John Lindsay and Richard Lugar and Dayton's own Dave Hall...the last good mayor this city has had.